The World’s Strictest Parents / Episode 2.1 / BBC Three
I don’t normally watch much on BBC Three. I’ll occasionally drop in to Family Guy (Who wouldn’t? It’s painfully funny. And Stewy’s adorable) but the rest of the schedule I normally give a wide berth. Three years out of the target audience age range (16-34 year olds), I always look at the pink neon three in the top left hand corner of the screen and think “Nope, it’s just not for me.”
The words “seventeen year old homosexual” were what commanded my attention when I was flicking channels last night however. That teenager was Chezden Dundee, openly gay with a view of his heart disease-suffering mother amounting to little more than a master/slave relationship. He seemed quite happy to give instructions about how to use the washing machine even though his mother had no doubt been using it for considerably more years than he’d been alive.
Chezden joined equally troublesome (and equally troubled) teenager Bex Keene (pictured above) in a trip to Atlanta for eight days to be parented by Baptists David and Wanda Kimbrough in the latest episode of BBC Three’s The World’s Strictest Parents. Would the teenagers go about a significant change in attitude during those eight days? Would they return to the UK vowing to treat their own parents with considerably more respect than they had been prior to departure?
A more pressing question for me was whether I’d get to the end of the broadcast. At first the pseudo-documentary style was irritating. If noddies in interviews are generally sneered upon now, then surely the more generic cutaway (where edited coversations need to be papered over so everything looks a little smooth) must be on the way out. At times the editing felt a little clumsy. Sometimes I just wanted to hear complete exchanges between characters.
Despite that stylistic criticism, the hour long programme didn’t feel like an hour at all – usually an indication of a story taking longer than is absolutely necessary. There were pockets of seemingly genuine exchange between David Kimbrugh and Chez over a box of matches (the Kimbrughs weren’t keen on the teenagers smoking, let’s put it like that) which was surprising, ticking the “you’re in my personal space” and “which one of you is the more angry at this point and over what exactly?” boxes.
Similarly, the Sister at the school the Kimbrughs run (they own and run a Baptist church too) who did singularly have the most significant effect on errant Bex at the point where the teenager expressed considerable reluctance to dissect a dead baby pig in the classroom. Frankly, I probably would have reacted in the same way as the the teenager and wouldn’t have taken too kindly to being advised on the right way to behave as a teenager. Certainly watching the entire programme I did find myself often on the side of Chez and Bex when I was rather expecting to be totally in support of the Kimbrughs given they’re adults.
What surprised me the most was how I remained with the programme to the end. I cared about the central characters and appreciated the final scenes. Bex and Wanda reconciled their differences whilst Chez and David did the same. This was the conclusion. There were tears. There was hold handing. This was what we were expecting. And yet it seemed genuine. And it was a definite relief. There was less cutting, less papering over audio edits and in general things felt like they’d slowed down. What a relief.
I had no idea that World’s Strictest Parents was now in it’s second series on BBC Three. Nor had I realised the American style reality TV show produced by ShedMedia (the same people who produce the US version of Who Do You Think You Are? donchyanow) had originated on BBC Three last year either. There are versions in the US (with a surprisingly groovy if slightly gaudy looking application website) and one in Australia too. This is a successful format it seems. Everyone wants a bit of it. Little wonder the visual language is the way it is. Time prevents production companies from making something which fits the style demanded by a vocal if slightly self-obsessed member of the minority audience.
If I did question the sincerity of the edits in places, there was one picture which reset the balance at the end. If I’d thought there were staged elements (and there must have been – some of the editing in the earlier discussions when the Kimburghs walked into the teenagers bedroom after they’d been out on the balcony must have been reshot – it was all too convenient and looked it) then the shot of both kids with their locum parents for the stills camera communicated immense warmth. In those pictures it seemed as though there was a genuine bond, one which had seemingly formed over a short space of time. That was important to see. It confirmed the content was there even if the style sometimes wasn’t.